The noose and knot around Susan Rohde's neck: Defence pathologist differs on tightness

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Murder accused Jason Rohde. (Gallo)
Murder accused Jason Rohde. (Gallo)

Defence pathologist Dr Reggie Perumal on Tuesday had a different view to that of murder accused Jason Rohde on the tightness of the noose and knot around Susan Rohde's neck, while being cross-examined in the Western Cape High Court.

Prosecutor Louis van Niekerk had grilled Perumal about the marks on Susan's neck and his testimony that these were consistent with a ligature and most likely point of suspension at her right ear.

In initially pleading not guilty to killing his wife, Rohde had said he found Susan's body hanging from the bathroom door of the hotel room at Spier wine estate on July 24, 2016.

Van Niekerk expressed confusion about the ligature mark not going around the neck.

He also compared an autopsy photo of a mark on the back of the neck appearing to come down slightly on the right with Perumal's koki pen drawing on the mannequin which showed the line going slightly up on the right.

Perumal conceded that the ligature marks he drew on a mannequin during his testimony were not to scale or measurement but were to give the court "some idea" of what the ligature looked like.

Testimony questioned

Van Niekerk said the court had heard Susan bruised easily and one would have expected to see bruises on her neck.

Perumal replied that it could be explained by the noose being loose and away from the skin. He said the knot was not tight against the skin.

Van Niekerk pointed out that this was not what Rohde had testified when recalling how he found his wife's body.

Defence lawyer Graham van der Spuy jumped up.

"It was his perception that the cord was tight around the neck, not the knot".

Rohde had testified that "the knot around her neck was very tight" and referred to a tight lasso.

Under cross-examination later on, Rohde had told Van Niekerk: "What I meant is that the tension around the neck was very tight," adding later that he could say that the "noose" was not loose.

On Tuesday, Van Niekerk said to Perumal: "I put it to you that what you have just put to us is speculation. Based on the facts of the matter, on the testimony of accused, even when he lifted her up, it was still tight all around."

State to argue marks not made by same mechanism

He pointed out that Rohde had been at the scene and made fresh observations.

Perumal replied that he was not going to take scientific evidence and tailor it to someone's observations.

Van Niekerk asked Perumal to consider handyman Desmond Daniels' evidence that there was a single strand behind the door, the cord was not tight and it was easy to take off Susan's neck.

Van der Spuy objected to the "garbled version" the prosecutor was putting to the witness.

Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe asked the prosecutor to refine what he wanted to say or ask.

Van Niekerk clarified that there was a difference between Rohde and Daniels' versions, with the first saying there was tightness around neck and the second saying the noose was easily removed.

Again, Van der Spuy jumped up and asked for a lunch adjournment, which was granted.

Earlier on Tuesday, Perumal had explained that one did not expect a ligature mark to make the same impression throughout the neck because of different pressures and tissue types.

Van Niekerk said they would argue that the more likely explanation was that the neck marks were not made by the same mechanism or object.

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